Minakshi Menon is a Postdoctoral Fellow of the Berlin Center for the History of Knowledge/Humboldt University, and Department III. She is currently working on two major research projects. The main result of the first will be a monograph titled Empiricism’s Empire: Natural Knowledge Making, State Making and Governance in East India Company India 1784-1830, based on primary sources in English, Sanskrit, Bengali, and Malayalam. It was begun while Menon was a Postdoctoral Fellow in Department II of the MPIWG in 2014–16. The project examines how the traditions of British empiricism operated in a colonial context. It identifies two types of empiricism at work in the colonial India, a “philological empiricism,” and a “Scottish empiricism,” born of the knowledge-making traditions of the Scottish Enlightenment. The project studies how the knowledge-making practices associated with each type—observation, triangulation, the use of paper tools and technologies—produced distinct forms of rule, with important consequences for the making of the colonial state. The colonial men of science studied include the orientalists Sir William Jones (1746–1794) and Sir Henry Thomas Colebrooke (1765–1837); and the Edinburgh-trained medics and botanists Francis Buchanan (1762-1829) and William Roxburgh (1751–1815).
The second research project, Hortus Oceanus Indicus: The Calcutta Botanic Garden and the Making of the Indian Ocean Environment, 1786–1847, is a comparative study of the major botanic gardens in South and Southeast Asia and their role in transforming the natural environment of the Indian Ocean World. It is supported by the Berlin Center for the History of Knowledge. This project tests three interlinked theses: that the Calcutta Botanic Garden played a central role in shaping the environmental changes brought about in the Indian Ocean region under British imperialism; that such changes were related to efforts to stabilize the British Empire following the threat posed by the Haitian Revolution (c. 1798) and strong abolitionist sentiment at home; and that botanical and agronomical research at the garden was also an effort to embed the East India Company state in its Indian milieu.
Menon is also the editor of a special issue of the journal South Asian History and Culture on Indigenous Knowledges and Colonial Sciences in South Asia (forthcoming 2018). She co-chairs the Forum for the History of Science in Asia, an interest group of the History of Science Society.
- "Medicine, Money and the Making of the East India Company State: William Roxburgh in Madras, c. 1790." In Anna Elizabeth Winterbottom & Facil Tesfaye (eds.) Histories of Medicine and Healing in the Indian Ocean World, Volume I, Palgrave MacMillan, 2016, 151–178.
- "Grains of Paradise and Reading Against the Grain: Telling Stories about Science in the Global South." Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 66 (2017) 83-86.
- "Transferrable Surveys: Natural History from the Hebrides to South India". Special Issue, Journal of Scottish Historical Studies, “Scots and Empire in the Long Eighteenth Century: Enlightenment and Imperialism” (eds., Jean-François Dunyach and Allan McInnes), May 2018 (forthcoming).
Presentations, Talks, & Teaching Activities
History of Science Society Annual Meeting, Toronto
Lichtenberg-Kolleg, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
Eighteenth Century Scottish Studies Society, Annual Meeting
International Conference: The European Impact on the Indian Ocean World, Indian Ocean World Centre, McGill University
International Conference: Histories of Medicine in the Indian Ocean World, Indian Ocean World Center, McGill University
History of Science Society Annual Meeting, San Diego